quote calligraphy under cup of lemon tea
Don’t Be square was an expression in the 1960’s and 1970’s about being cool.

Don’t Be Square was an expression PA announcer John Carucci used all the time at Kakiat Junior High in Spring Valley, New York in the 1960’s through the 1980’s. John was a Social Studies teacher, Football coach and Teen Center Director. He was a man of the people and loved by his students. Making announcements in the morning was like having his own radio show and John hammed it up everyday on the PA giving teachers funny nicknames and always exaggerating things beyond one’s imagination.

Teaching in the 1960’s and 1970’s was no picnic. Black students were walking out of classes to protest Black Rights. White students were marching against the Vietnam War. Inequality against girls existed in many forms until the Federal government passed Title 9 which guaranteed equal sports opportunities in equipment, coaching, and facilities. Administrators and teachers were always at odds with teachers trying to achieve tenure to protect their jobs and administrators plotting to remove teachers they did not like or were too old. It was the free sex generation, the free drug era and the free dress generation with new civil rights guaranteed. Students wore mini-skirts and boys wore peace t-shirts and baggy pants. Designer jeans were $60. and out of the range of minority students. Designer sneakers could cost $100 to 200 dollars each, yet many minorities managed to buy a pair. What student wore determined how rich they were in the 1960’s. Black students were treated differently than white students in discipline, culture, and respect.

Teachers had to overcome racial bias in their ranks. Administrators were afraid of militant black teachers and did not hire them. Hippie teachers with long hair were more interested in spreading their political agenda than teaching the curriculum. Anti-war demonstrations went on every week in schools. Fake bomb scares were never challenged and students spent many hours wasting outside during bomb scares. Teacher salaries were low and still are today. You had to be crazy to want to become a teacher. During the summer vacations teachers had to find jobs at summer camps and other jobs to survive. Extra assignments for pay like coaching and advisors were most common. Some teachers had three jobs in addition to teaching.

Every four years there was a strike threat because the Boards of Education wanted to prevent teachers from getting increases that match the cost of living. The stress of strike threats every four years forced a lot of good teachers out of the profession.  Many school districts tried to enforce a dress code despite the fact that the rule always went to court and lost. Defining what a woman should wear as a teacher was impossible. Men stopped wearing jacket tie and slacks and dress shoes. Civil rights backfired for many. If the students could dress like slobs, why not the teachers too? Some teachers wore jeans and ripped logo t-shirts to school to teach in to be cool to the students.

Neighborhoods changed over time and when minorities moved in the whites moved out. Student populations in schools expanded in the 1960s and then dropped 50 or 100 students in each school each year. Teachers were fired or forced to be part-time teachers or traveling teachers going from school to school in one day. It was a sad state of affairs for teachers as student populations dropped. Families weren’t having 8 to ten children anymore. They could only afford one or two children because of poor economic times.

Teachers never got rich. Even after they retired they had to work to supplement their low pension rates. In 1967 a starting salary for a teacher was 7,000 and with a Masters degree 7,100 a year plus benefits. Over the years the benefits shrunk. 100% medical coverage went to 60% paid by the teacher and 40% paid by the district. Dental insurance did not exist until the 1980’s.

The 1960s was an era of tension between minorities and majority citizens. It was a time of inequality of women and men, whites and blacks and rich and poor.

What has changed? Very little. Technology has arrived making lazy students copying everything off the internet. Learning to use internet phrases BFF, LOL and forgetting full sentences in good English. A generation of gamers appeared.  Soon a generation of cell phone idiots with the cell phone messaging for communication instead of talking face to face appeared. No wonder students could not think or imagine. They had wrapped their world around a cell phone which played music and transferred pictures and text messages.


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